The bride wore a white lace, tea-length gown and carried a bouquet of calla lilies, from which the groom took a single bloom as a buttonhole.
It looked picture perfect: a beaming bride, dashing groom, church service and a sit-down reception for 70 at a country house hotel.
Only there were certain oddities about this ‘wedding’. Not least the fact it wasn’t a wedding at all. Days before the ceremony, Garry Rodgers had confessed to fiancée Carol Goodall, 61, that his divorce paperwork wasn’t in order, insisting that rather than delay, they should turn their church ceremony into a blessing instead.
It was Garry who had insisted on a church service, wanting to ‘be married in the eyes of God’, so while disappointed, Carol was understanding. After all, they could easily have a quiet civil ceremony later. It was the public declaration of their love that mattered.
But, as Carol realises to her cost, the absence of an actual, legal wedding wasn’t the only thing amiss about that day in November 2016. She now knows the man standing beside her at the altar wasn’t even called Garry Rodgers. He was Richard Robinson, a conman who had at least 30 aliases and a criminal career spanning decades, in which he duped a string of innocent women, netting close to £1 million.
Carol Goodall (pictured) now knows the man standing beside her at the altar wasn’t even called Garry Rodgers. He was Richard Robinson (pictured), a conman who had at least 30 aliases and a criminal career spanning decades, in which he duped a string of innocent women, netting close to £1 million.
With breathtaking audacity, he was a serial romance fraudster who met women, mostly through online dating websites, then told them the same lies to inveigle his way into their lives, fleecing them of their hard-earned savings.
Robinson persuaded them to marry him, sell their homes and put his business interests in their names — on more than one occasion juggling three women, some living just a few miles apart, at the same time.
Sadly for Carol, this was something she only discovered after they’d been ‘married’ for a year, when she stumbled across another of his victims and his lies were finally exposed.
Earlier this month, Robinson was jailed at Hove Crown Court for ten years for a callous campaign of fraud and deception against Carol and a second woman. He duped them out of a combined total of more than £210,000, while at the same time romancing a third woman, who only escaped being defrauded because Robinson’s web of deceit came crashing down.
In fact, as the Mail has discovered through talking to victims, police and the woman who is Robinson’s wife, the ‘targeted romance fraud’ that brought him before the court was just the tip of a very large iceberg. His reign of duplicity covered vast swathes of Britain, from Hampshire to Devon, Somerset, North and South Wales and Sussex.
Robinson is believed to have been previously jailed at least twice for romance fraud, most recently in North Wales in 2013 for defrauding four other women in circumstances so similar they would be laughable if not so devastating to his victims.
He also has a 2013 conviction for defrauding banks out of £750,000, by using multiple false identities to obtain loans which were never repaid. The scale of Robinson’s subterfuge is underlined by the police officers who tracked him.
Avon and Somerset PC Barbara Salvage, whose efforts alongside Sussex Police led to his Hove court appearance, remains convinced that Robinson’s victims run into the hundreds.
Carol Goodall and Gary Rogers (Richard Robinson) on their wedding day
‘I think he is a lifetime career fraudster. I’ve picked up his trail going back to the 80s, in South Wales, befriending females and owing them money,’ she told the Mail.
‘I think he has always had scams on the go, whether cars, mortgages or romance — but I think he found it was easiest to commit romance fraud and move on than anything else.’
That was certainly the case for carer Carol, who shares a small rented flat in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, with her two grown-up children. ‘He’s just born to lie,’ she says. ‘I don’t think he would know the truth if it jumped up and bit him.’
She used to own a comfortable family home, but sold it before the fateful wedding that never was.
The money was squirrelled away for ‘expenses’ at the motor business her ‘husband’ insisted on putting in her name. He even convinced her to part with the £60,000 nest-egg she had set aside for her children.
Regret doesn’t begin to cover how Carol feels today: ‘I’ve lost my house, everything. It’s devastating and if I didn’t have my children I wouldn’t be here now,’ she says. ‘I often sit here and think, why was I so stupid? But he reeled me in.’
But why would Carol have suspected him? After all, she was no wealthy divorcee who might expect to attract a gold digger. His modus operandi was successful for so long because he targeted vulnerable women of relatively modest means, the advent of internet dating making them all the easier to identify.
Robinson appeared entirely plausible when he presented himself as a divorcee looking for a woman to share his life on website Plenty Of Fish in late 2015. Having been alone for 12 years after a 25-year marriage, Carol was looking for someone to share her life with again. ‘We seemed to have quite a bit in common,’ she says. ‘We used to sit up for ages just talking. It was so nice — we liked the same music, the same food. It felt like we were so compatible.’
He said he was a twice-married divorcee, whose first wife had died of cancer (an oft-repeated line), with grown-up children and his own motor business.
‘He was very charming at first,’ says Carol. ‘He took me away for weekends, took me out for meals. I used to say, “I’ll pay for this” and he’d say “No, no, put your money away”.’
The two had been dating for only a few months, when Robinson proposed. Once they were living together, renting a property in Ferring, West Sussex, after Carol sold her house, it seemed only natural to allow her ‘husband’ to have access to her bank account and to agree that his business be placed in her name ‘in case anything happens to me’.
And then it all started to go wrong. ‘It would be Friday and I would get a text saying sorry, I’ve got to work this weekend,’ says Carol.
Robinson claimed to have a second line of business, repairing boats and selling them, a trade that, conveniently you might think, took him all around the country. Carol admits her suspicions grew, but when she broached them, Robinson would renew his protestations of love.
As she now knows, Robinson was romancing three — and at one stage four — women at the same time.
It was in early 2018 that the tower of lies began to topple when Carol stumbled across a text message on her phone. ‘I really don’t know what sort of games you are playing, but it’s not very nice,’ read the angry text message from what transpired to be a second victim, a woman in her 50s living in Hampshire.
A two-hour phone call ensued, in which the two women realised they had been seduced on the same website, by the same silver-tongued conman, who had been stringing them both along. ‘I went through every emotion going,’ says Carol. ‘There was relief that I wasn’t going mad. I was crying. I was furious.’
The women vowed to both contact police, which they did, setting in motion an investigation that continued for another 18 months.
Carol didn’t confront Robinson immediately, hoping against hope that she would be able to recoup some of her money before eventually telling him to pack his bags and go.
Janet Flowers married serial Love Fraudster who used the alias of Gary Robinson at the time
The existence of a third victim only came to light three months later, when Carol discovered emails between Robinson and an estate agent about a valuation of another woman’s home, also in West Sussex.
Terrified someone was about to become victim No3, Carol and her accomplice wrote to warn her. Robinson was arrested in March 2018 and charged in June that year, but skipped bail and went on the run.
He was traced and arrested in August last year, in Wiltshire, by PC Salvage, who began to piece together Robinson’s decades-long trail.
PC Salvage recalls the moment she finally caught up with him, as he sat having lunch in a pub garden.
‘To say he wasn’t pleased to see me is an under-estimation,’ she says. ‘I think he was most upset that I was a female officer.’
Robinson had multiple phones — PC Salvage believes he had one per victim — and his car sat-nav and mileage indicated he had travelled all over the country. Determined to bring Robinson to justice for more crimes, and hopeful women will feel safe enough to come forward, she says: ‘He’s a master manipulator. He’s not only very well-groomed and articulate, but very careful in what he says and does.
‘When the money was running out with one woman, he’d move on to the next one, whom he would have already started [to reel in].’
Another of those women is Jean Barry, 61, who knew Robinson by the name of Garry Richardson, when he conned her into parting with thousands of pounds. She was one of a group of four women in the Cheshire and North Wales area who were conned out of £18,000 by Robinson, who was convicted at Mold Crown Court in October 2013, of fraud between 2010 and 2012.
At her home in Cheshire, Jean couldn’t resist a chuckle to discover the man who duped her out of £10,000 was again behind bars.
Like Carol, twice-divorced Jean met him online, in October 2010. He told her he was a widowed businessman, that his wife had died from cancer and he was waiting on a payout from their insurers. ‘I’m not surprised he has been up to his old tricks,’ she says. ‘He’s very good at it. He’s the biggest liar I have ever known. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself.’
As with Carol, there was a proposal after a whirlwind two-month romance — then the plea for cash to help with a tax bill.
Undated handout photo issued by Sussex Police Richard Robinson, also known as Gary Rogers, 67, a motor dealer, of Red Hill, Camerton, near Bath, who was jailed for 10 years at Hove Crown Court earlier this month
As she would discover later, Robinson used some of the cash she gave him to buy a £7,000 engagement ring. ‘He was a professional conman. He was very clever,’ says Jean, ruefully. ‘He was a man of many phones and he would tell the same story to us all, that his wife had died of cancer and that he was setting up a garage. He had a picture of this woman, who he said was his wife who had died of cancer. But when the police arrested him they told me the woman in the photograph, whoever she was — not his wife — was alive and well. They said his wife was sticking by him.’
So what does Robinson’s real wife Janet Flowers feel about him? The Mail tracked her down to a one-bedroom flat in Littlehampton, West Sussex, where she insisted that despite receiving a one-year suspended prison sentence for misrepresentation, alongside her husband for mortgage fraud in 2013 she too was a victim. Janet, 71 and a mother-of-two who met Robinson while working in advertising for a local newspaper in the 1990s, has mixed emotions about the man who still calls her every day from prison —and whose calls she still takes.
‘He’s done it all his life,’ she says, ‘It’s only now I can see that. I believed everything he told me.’
Janet is certain that Robinson — from whom she says she is now divorced — had already conned at least one woman out of cash before she married him in a ceremony in the Lake District in 2008.
‘It was so romantic with the mist on Coniston all around. He got me in his arms and said, “I will love you forever, I will look after you forever.” I suppose I was hooked.’
Her story is depressingly familiar. Shortly after the wedding, just two months after they met, she sold her family home in Worthing, allowing him to use her £10,000 equity to fund his business repairing Jaguar cars.
Yet she can’t quite bring herself to write off her marriage as another con. She had, after all, managed to get him up the aisle lawfully, which no one else she knows of had done.
‘I think he meant it at the time. He wasn’t deliberately conning me into a relationship to rip me off.’
It doubtless helped that their lifestyle was often lavish. At one stage Robinson was buying motor yachts, upgrading until they were the proud ‘owners’ of a £250,000 boat moored in Poole Harbour.
‘We had a very nice lifestyle,’ says Janet. ‘But I had nothing. He rented the house, gave me money for food and for my horses. Yes, it was good lots of the time, other times it was pretty awful.’
She says she has been left with nothing but debt — and a criminal record. ‘I have been drawn into this man’s life and he has totally ruined it,’ she says.
Back in Haywards Heath, Carol Goodall has just had her 61st birthday, not that she feels much like celebrating. ‘He’s got ten years for this, which is good, but I’ve got this until the day I die.
‘I can’t trust anybody and I’ve got nothing to give to my children because he’s taken it all away.’
Additional reporting: Jaya Narain & Liz Hull